Whether you call her Mom, Mum, Mother, Mamma, Mere, Madre or Mummy, the connection to this figure in our lives is universal. Also universal: the annual search for the right way to tell her how much we love her.

Who should Mother’s Day really be for? I remember the title of a Dr. Seuss book famously asking: “Are You My Mother?” and when I first heard it I thought “wow, you can have more than one!” Although not every country in the world celebrates “Mother’s Day”, many countries have a national “Woman’s Day”, and there’s something about that idea that I really think we can borrow from. So maybe it’s time to acknowledge the multitude of women in our lives who “mother” us from time to time. A mother today represents more than the person who gave birth to us. Sure, she may be your Godmother, your Grandmother, your Stepmother — all in all the same. But it’s really just that person who loved us, helped us and was there for use when we needed them most. (And yes: if you own a pet and you happen to be a female then I think you too should be able to hold the “mother” title and be eligible for a gift!)

Over the years we continue to search for the right way to tell our mothers how we love them. Perhaps we wait way too long to express our inner feelings and gratitude. Mother’s day is a full time job and a mother’s job is never done. No matter how old we may become, mommy is always on call.

This year I recommend that Mother’s Day should be a spring awakening, a symbolic day to acknowledge her love and devotion for all the wonderful things she represents. Let’s come together and express our gratitude for the simple — and not so simple — gifts that validate our existence.

Some ground rules, though: Mother’s Day gifts shouldn’t be intended to be used to make their job as a mother easier — nothing to help her cook, clean, or look after you better. Mom’s may say they’re delighted with the fancy new iron or crock pot you got them, but really, don’t you think she’d rather have dinner out? (Yes, moms, I’m giving you license to unite, as the gifts of the past are no more relevant to you than your old roller-skates. So you might need to hint broadly at what you really want.)

To all the gift-givers: Here is a list of things that you can do that are a little different than the traditional.

Some are family activities, some are individual, and some are meant for moms to enjoy alone. Some are great if you live nearby (including in the same house), while some are best if you live far away. And in a wide range of budgets, too — depending on how elaborate you want to get. I hope you find some great inspiration to make the mothers in your life feel appreciated. You know that good feeling you get when you make her smile? That’s universal, too.

  • Photo portrait shoot of mom alone or of the whole family (let it be her choice)
  • Have a favorite photo of mom turned into a painted portrait
  • Play “social secretary” for a month: offer to make all her appointments for her, from haircuts to book clubs to babysitter
  • Plant something with her: anything from a tree to an entire rose garden (family activity)
  • Sing a song to her after dinner
  • Hand-write a letter detailing all the things you love about her
  • Create a Mother’s Day banner from an old sheet and hang it in the window
  • Write a message on her bathroom mirror with soap
  • Kiss her hand
  • Create a container garden with herbs (if she cooks) or flowers (if she doesn’t), and then be responsible for watering it all year
  • Plan a vacation get-away with her best friend (or plan to take care of the kids so she can)
  • Diamonds — always a great gift
  • A change purse
  • Something monogrammed — doesn’t even have to be something new, sneak off with her favorite robe or set of towels and have it added
  • One-time maid service for several hours
  • Hire a cook-for-the-day
  • Create a collage of family photos
  • Create a video message: tell her why you love her, put it on a DVD for her to play over and over
  • Call her boss and ask for an early end-of-work-day the Friday before Mother’s Day or a late start on the Monday after Mother’s Day (Hey, can’t hurt to ask, right? And even if it can’t be done, she’ll be delighted to find out you tried.)
  • Give the gift of responsibility: create a binder that has all the contact information in one place. Why have everything scrawled on Post-it’s on the fridge when it can all be together in one place?
  • Give mom a bulletin board for the kitchen
  • A travel train case for her make-up
  • Postcard of the month: buy 12 postcards, address and stamp them, and write out one per month now of why you love her — then they’re ready to mail all year long
  • Arrange to install a window box to enhance her view — whether it’s from the kitchen or bathroom or bedroom window

Make this a Mother’s Day that will surprise her by trying a creative new way to express your love. Mother’s Day only comes once a year; your mother’s commitment to you is everyday. Why wait?

And there you have it.